I Ask Myself Hard Questions

Tomorrow, I plan to write a story about my experiences at the Leadville 100 this year. It will be easy to write (and it should be fun to read) because I had a great time. I met lots of old friends, made several new friends, and got some extra attention at the awards ceremony. There will be photographs of me and others. There will be charts from my GPS. I will reveal the name of the person who hypothetically had signed up for this race and was not sure whether he or she should do it.

I, for one, can hardly wait to read what I write tomorrow.

Today, though, I’m going to indulge in a self-indulgent Q&A session on what went wrong at the Leadville 100 for me.

Q. So, let’s start with the one thing everyone is at least mildly curious about. What was your finishing time?
A. Ten hours. And six minutes.

Q. What?! Aren’t you the same guy who was going on and on and on about how you thought you had a good chance at finishing in under nine hours this year?
A. Yes, that was me. Evidently, I am not anywhere near as close to as fast as I thought I was.

Q. Just for the sake of comparison, what was your finishing time last year?
A. 9:41.

Q. Wasn’t that the year where you rolled along with a voice recorder and chatted with people about how things were going, asking them why they raced, whether they were having fun, and stuff like that?
A. Yeah, that was it.

Q. And wasn’t that the year you were going on about how fat and slow you were?
A. Yes. Do you have a point to make?

Q. It just seems weird that you were 25 minutes faster last year when you were supposedly fat, slow, and chatty than this year when you were supposedly light, fast, and serious about finishing under nine hours.
A. Yeah, that’s occurred to me, too.

Q. So, would you like to make some excuses as to what went wrong?
A. I sure would.

Q. OK, let’s start with the bike, your so-called “Weapon of Choice.” Did you have a bunch of mechanical issues with this dream bike of yours?
A. Nope, the bike performed flawlessly. Racer built it and tuned it so it never had a second’s worth of problems. However, since I had only three rides’ worth of experience with the rigid fork, I was very timid on the downhills.

Q. But you’ve always been timid on the downhills.
A. Yeah, but I was even more timid than usual. I passed lots of people every climb, but got passed by even more people on every descent. I think I can say with confidence that I did not pass a single person while descending. I may have been slower going down than up. I was an embarrassment to mountain bikers everywhere.

Q. You mean more than usual?
A. Yes. Can we move on to my next excuse now, please?

Q. Sure. What about your body? You’re supposedly light and fit right now.
A. I am light. I weigh 154.2 pounds today. The thing is, I now realize I am more like Jan Ullrich than I previously thought. You know how he would always look chunky in the early season and then lose a bunch of weight just before the Tour, and people would agree that it was good he had lost the weight, but maybe it would have been better if he had lost it a while sooner and trained at that weight? That’s kind of what happened with me. Until mid-June, I was heavy and didn’t get much training in. Then, for two months, I focused and made a lot of progress. But you know what I learned on the trail last Saturday? This: Making progress isn’t the same thing as being ready.

Q. Anything else you’d like to blame?
A. Yeah. The weather. About eighty miles into the race, as I was hiking up the Powerline climb—which is unanimously understood to be the most difficult part of the whole race—it started raining. Hard. I was soaked and chilled to the bone, and could not see. If I left my glasses on, all I saw was a blurry, muddy mess. If I took my glasses off, all I could see was a blurry, muddy mess. The only reason I didn’t quit right then was because I knew I was just a couple hours away from getting my 1000 Mile award. This slowed my descending down even more, if that’s possible.

Q. So that’s why you didn’t finish in under nine hours? The weather?
A. No, I realized much earlier that I wasn’t on a sub-nine pace.

Q. No kidding. When did you realize you were going too slow to finish in under nine hours?
A. By the time I got to the second aid station, 40 miles into the race. By then I was eighteen minutes behind schedule, even though I was working hard. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t have a stronger second half than first half. And I didn’t.

Q. So are you going to do this race again next year?
A. I’ve already reserved my hotel room and secured permission from my wife, who will crew for me. The lottery no longer applies to me, since I’ve done the race 10 times.

Q. What will you do differently?
A. Stay at the weight I’m at. Learn to downhill, either with or without suspension (I still think the rigid fork was a good idea, I just need experience with it). Train earlier and more consistently, instead of doing one big panicky training push.

Q. Those all sound like great ideas. Do you think you’ll finish under nine hours next year?
A. Absolutely not.

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